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Returning to Korea: foretaste of heaven

GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas (BP)–For Don Jones, the 60th anniversary of Southern Baptist work in South Korea was a dream come true, remembering 36 years of service to the country and his Lord.

Jones, 81, was among 15 emeritus Southern Baptist missionaries who served in Korea between the 1950s and 1990s who joined in the Korean Baptist Convention’s celebration, preaching in many of the churches and the seminary where they saw the fruit of their labor in years past.

Though Jones has remained active in retirement, traveling with mission teams to many countries in Asia, Europe and Africa, Jones knew this trip would be different.

“After being away for 17 years, God gave me good fluency in preaching yesterday morning,” he shared in a Facebook post after one of his sermons in returning to Korea in September. “It was a blessed experience.”

Jones’ schedule included preaching in Korean at Seoul Memorial Church and traveling to Taejon to preach to the 2,800-member student body at Korea Baptist Theological Seminary and to Busan where the Baptist hospital named in honor of the late missionary Bill Wallace has grown from 50 to 548 beds since Jones first went to Korea as a missionary 53 years ago.

“This hospital sends out mission teams all over Asia and trains doctors from other nations in their own hospital,” Jones marveled.

While at Busan’s Global Vision Baptist Church, Jones sang at one of six services held at two locations.

“The auditorium I was in seats 1,100 people but they have other ones in the same building which each seat 500 to 1,000 people and even more in another building,” Jones recounted, noting that pastor Danny Lee usually preaches all six services for a congregation of 32,000, utilizing large-screen projection technology. Lee served as a chaplain at Wallace Memorial Baptist Hospital, professor of the Korean seminary and pastor of Young-ahn Baptist Church and Yale Baptist Church, both in Busan.

“Don Jones is our best friend and our honoring missionary,” Lee told Baptist Press. “He gave Korean people a lot of help and Christian love when he was in Korea. I personally respect him and love him very much. He is really a great missionary and a Christian.”

Jones, though, describes himself as “a person of quite ordinary Oklahoma and Texas background who was blessed to be born in a Christian home, to find Christ early and to have stumbled into the glorious adventure of saying, ‘Yes,’ to the call of God to missions in Korea, where we served for 36 years.”

Before his appointment as a missionary, Jones had been to Korea while serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. For two years he resisted the call to missions, though his wife Nita was certain of that destiny early on. The couple studied Bible and music at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas, and then graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth with a bachelor of divinity degree, which was converted to the M.Div. in 1969. He also earned a master of religious education degree in 1969 and a doctor of ministry in 1979, both from Southwestern.

Koreans now make up Southwestern’s largest group of minority visa students, with 276 having F-1 visas and a total of 326 Koreans enrolled. SWBTS President Paige Patterson praised the contribution of early Southern Baptist missionaries who seeded an interest in theological training and the multiplication of churches in their homeland.

“As a boy preacher in 1959 I celebrated my 17th birthday in Korea preaching in Korean Baptist churches struggling to recover from the devastations of war,” Patterson said. “Even then, it was apparent that God’s hand of favor was upon these churches. Now as these Baptist colleagues celebrate 60 years as a convention of churches, the future is bright with unabridged opportunity.”

Jones and his wife, appointed in 1956, studied the Korean language stateside, then deployed in 1957. He taught at the seminary, served as mission treasurer, led the publication and religious education promotion work for 10 years, was the mission planner another 10 and mission administrator for six years, finishing his tenure as evangelism coordinator before retiring to Grand Prairie, Texas.

His wife first served in religious education, but soon transitioned to utilizing her musical talent by teaching piano, leading musical groups, training music directors and translating and publishing music materials, in addition to teaching at the seminary and university levels.

Their children, Libba and Preston, both learned to swim in the Yellow Sea, vacationing at Taechon Beach. “We truly had an interdenominational family of missionaries from all groups who became part of our larger family,” Jones said.

Jones said he looks forward to a reunion in heaven of those former colleagues, but most of all with his wife who died in 2004. “I cannot help thinking that heaven’s music has been enhanced,” he said.

On Sundays when he’s not jetting around the world on mission, Jones can be found teaching a Sunday School class at Inglewood Baptist Church in Grand Prairie where he also serves as a deacon and choir member. The congregation honored the couple a few years ago by naming their mission house for Don and Nita Jones.

Things are quite different in Korea from the day the Jones’ arrived there more than three decades ago to find 140 churches in the Korea Baptist Convention. Focusing on mission-mindedness as the best indicator of growth, Jones said, “Today, Korea Christian groups are second only to the USA in the number of missionaries sent throughout the world.”
Tammi Reed Ledbetter is news editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

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